Marchbooks' Blog

July 20, 2009

POD – The Greener Side of Publishing

In the constant pursuit of information on all things publishing, I recently finished Peter Bowerman’s, ‘The Well-Fed Self – Publisher’. It is a handy tool that does a good job of taking the reader through the process of self-publishing, in an easy, step-by-step progression. I have no mind to remake the wheel here. Suffice it to say that, if you are thinking of self-publishing, this would be a useful addition to your library.

This blog is devoted to the one area in the book that I took exception to – the consummate disparagement of POD as an option for the self-publisher. Bowerman devotes a full chapter to this issue ‘Print-On-Demand (POD): Dream or Disappointment’. Throughout, he paints POD with a pretty dark brush.

I’ll begin by acknowledging the fact that one reason for this jaundiced viewpoint may be the fact that the information is dated, the book being copyrighted in 2007. I will piggyback on this statement by pointing to this as clear evidence of how fast this technology is moving along. Perhaps, in 2007, the author’s comments rang true, but in only two years, the picture has changed dramatically.

First of all, Bowerman seems to contradict his own text when he, time after time, refers to POD as only a technology (which it is). But, in castigating it, he points to turn-key publishers like iUniverse and Author House (apparently Lulu was just coming on the scene at that time).

This blog is not meant to criticize Bowerman for being short-sighted and failing to see into the future, but to clarify a misconception that a novice might draw from this text.

First of all, POD is a technology. It is a technology which, as time goes by, is becoming more widely available and, if we are smart, will someday be credited with changing the face of publishing.

The traditional publishing model, which has changed little in several hundred years, is founded on speculation – write a book, print it in huge quantities (to reduce the per unit cost) and buckshot it to as many outlets as possible to see if it will sell. To accomodate this business model, we must use vast amounts of energy and natural resources to print the books. Then we waste more energy to ship these books to their temporary destination, where we will expend many more man-hours unloading, unpacking and displaying these books for the customer (let me repeat – ALL ON SPECULATION). We hope, but don’t know, that people will buy these books. The hope of the publisher is that, if they put a book in every window and on every display table, the customer will eventually relent and buy a copy.

Inevitably, after three or four months (sometimes much less), these books will get subplanted with the new flavor of the day. So, we expend more man-hours and energy to ship these books back to the publisher where they will be discounted, remaindered or turned into pulp. This arrangement benefits no one. The bookstore owner may see this as a positive, no-risk solution and certainly, there is little incentive for them to seek change. They are filling their stores with inventory that is often returned for credit before their checks have even cleared, effectively turning them into so many consignment shops.

Perhaps, if these store owners had more of a vested interest in whether or not their inventory sold, there would be more regard for purchasing saleable titles in realistic quantities and applying effective marketing techniques.

I realize that instant gratification is an integral aspect of our lives today. However, would it be such a crime to be in a position where you had to  order a book and return two days later to pick it up? And, that is only the worst case scenerio. For a small increase in the end cost, POD removes the necessity for huge print runs. Certainly, the Kings and Grishams of our time will still merit offset printing, but now there is a better option for the other 95% of titles on the market. Now, with the arrival of Lightningsource’s Espresso machine, a customer can have their book printed right on site, while they wait. Ain’t technology grand? I am sure the quality will not be that of offset printing, or current POD standards for that matter, but that is what is wonderful about human ingenuity. There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of these books will improve at lightning speed, now that we have the technology in hand.

The publishing industry is struggling and it is not because the community-at-large has lost its interest in a good book. It is the industry’s refusal to change that will be its downfall. POD is the cure for this flawed business model. The quality of POD is now almost on a par with traditional offset printing. The speed and efficiency of the model allows for a title to be printed and delivered in days. Self-publishers can take advantage of the turn-key operations like iUniverse, Outskirts Press or Lulu  to fulfill their needs for book design, or they can do it themselves with printers like Createspace or Lightningsource (if they have a strong heart and nerves of steel – believe me, it is not a task for the faint of heart).

True, if you use one of the turn-key operations, you will pay for the service – in two ways 1. an upfront charge for the design of your book and 2. a percentage of each sale. This is somewhat unfair, in my mind. These companies should not be entitled to a portion of sales unless they generate from that company’s site. But, hey, it’s their company, so they call the shots. In the end, your % return on each sale will still be better than the meager royalty you would receive through a traditional publisher.

POD is not an option to be disparaged. It should be embraced and seen as what it is – the key to a better future for the publishing industry. But, I key does not work unless you use it. Change is not comfortable for anyone, but the time has come. Let’s embrace a new era for the written word.


  1. WOW! Very well put. I have just started down the road with iUniverse and reading things like this make me feel good about my choice; of not wanting to wait months or years to find an agent and then waiting again for them to find a publisher. Going that route seemed like wasted time and energy (e-mails, query letters, shipping back and forth) when I could be doing what I love and writing.

    Comment by sarahwinters — August 23, 2009 @ 10:23 am | Reply

    • Sarah,

      Good luck with iUniverse. I will be interested to hear your experiences as you go through the process.

      I am not willing to go as far as to say that the traditional route is a waste of time, as long as you remember that even big publishing houses are only made up of people. With such varied tastes in reading, you cannot be discouraged if a traditional publisher doesn’t want to take a risk on a new, unknown author. Frankly, they all want a sure thing, which is a pretty rare animal.

      Each author has to decide how much effort they want to put into seeing their words in print, and whether or not they want their book to be a commercial success.

      I’m with you; I would rather invest my time and effort into my own publishing efforts, but, depending on what route you take, it may not be an easy road. It is a lot of work, requiring a significant investment of time and money.

      So far, I have found it impossible to work on publication and pursue new creative writing. I have resigned myself to putting my creative writing on hold for awhile. C’est la vie. Most things worth having require compromise. Good luck with your publication.

      Comment by marchbooks — August 23, 2009 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

      • I’m sorry if I made it sound like I was putting down traditional publishing. I was not meaning to. For me… I just wanted to write, I didn’t even spend a full month looking for an agent. I wrote about three query letters, then sat back and thought of what I really wanted to write. I guess ‘waste of time’ would be better phrased as ‘time consuming’ and there is no doubt to anyone that looking for an agent can take a lot of time and patience. I am not very good at the latter. I don’t mind some time consuming things, selling my books will take time but I think it will be near as fun as writing them.
        I am trying to keep a blog of how it all goes, which I hope will help others to either determine if self-publication is for them or not, or for people who would like a play by play to ready themselves for the unexpected.

        Comment by sarahwinters — August 23, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

      • Not to worry. As you can see from my blogpost, I have issues with some of the practices that traditional publishing houses are doggedly holding onto. They need to adapt and change with the times. I think they are much too enmired in tradition. Which would not be so bad. if it was working (don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, as they say). But, it is broken.

        Fortunately, new technology has opened the door for a whole flock of new writers. It is now up to those new writers to use their due diligence to produce respectable products so that the public stops looking at self-published authors as second-rate hacks.

        The bottom line is that, just slapping your text together between two pieces of cardboard is not enough to constitute a legitimate publishing attempt. These authors need to put some honest to goodness effort into their books so that they will be the best they can be. Only then will they get the respect they are seeking.

        Comment by marchbooks — August 23, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

  2. Here is how I see it… before anyone starts they will need an edit in the end. King needs an editor, Rowling needs an editor, and they are some of the best. Just simply put everyone needs an editor.
    If you were at a restaurant and ordered your favorite cooked meal, and it was brought to you raw, you might never want to eat there again. That is the way I see my book without a very nice edit job… it is raw. Edit, editorial evaluation, copyedit, line edit, content edit, developmental edit, book doctor… whatever it takes and is recommended. If you read my blog I just went though an editorial evaluation. The grass was not perfectly green or without weeds, but I am doing everything I can to make it lovely and flourish. And (I have not blogged about prices yet) I will be spending near $3,500 for the edit. Then I will be going over it AGAIN, and then they will be going over it to make sure I did not add new mistakes, that will cost around $1,000. Ouch! I will need to be saving my pennies. But I see it as worth it. I don’t want to lose readers because my work was not up to par. The readers who buy my book deserve the very best. The only sad part of self-publishing is I wish for my book to be cheaper. From the looks of things it might be near $17.50 in trade paper back (I would like to see it sale for $12.00 or even $9.00) and I think $30 in hard back ($24.00 would be more fair.) Some of the other places offer better sales but I wanted a good edit so I went with iUniverse. I am paying an extra $90 so the people who have the Kindle and Sony Reader can also have it… let’s hope for cheaper. I’m not in this for royalties or the extra money. I wouldn’t lie and say that extra cash wouldn’t be pleasant; it would be grand if this book would pay for itself. But I’m in this to tell a good story and have others enjoy it.
    I can only tell you the ‘me’ of it, and I will be doing what I can to make it the best book I can. Plus there is one more reason for me to want this to be great… I don’t want to look like a fool.

    Comment by sarahwinters — August 24, 2009 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

    • Sarah,

      It is wonderful to meet someone who is of a like mind. I love the weeds analogy. I have come to think of it in this way – putting one’s writing out there for public viewing, without being properly edited, or God forbid even proofread, is like going to an awards banquet in a raggedy pair of jeans and a moth-eaten sweatshirt. And yet it happens all the time. People who would never send their kids to school in ragged clothes have not reservations about sending their writing out into the world looking as if it was written by that same third grader.

      You really got the juices flowing. I am feeling the need for a new blog entry. Now look what you’ve done, lol.


      Comment by marchbooks — August 24, 2009 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

  3. […] The Downside to POD Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 5:14 pm Tags: editing, POD, print-on-demand, proofreading, Publishing, self-publishing, writing I always enjoy being devil’s advocate, even when the devil is me. Therefore, this entry is devoted to a counter argument to a previous post –  ‘POD – The Greener Side of Publishing’. […]

    Pingback by The Downside to POD « Marchbooks's Blog — August 24, 2009 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  4. 😀

    Comment by sarahwinters — August 24, 2009 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  5. […] back toward the wasteful practice of larger and larger offset print runs. I won’t reiterate my arguments about the impact of this practice on our environment, but I think it is an unfortunate turn of […]

    Pingback by What Do New Price Wars Mean To Self-Published Authors? « Marchbooks's Blog — October 30, 2009 @ 8:25 pm | Reply

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